A Boeing 777 flight simulator at the Ethiopian Airlines flight academy in Addis Ababa. Picture: AFP PHOTO/ZACHARIAS ABUBEKER
A Boeing 777 flight simulator at the Ethiopian Airlines flight academy in Addis Ababa. Picture: AFP PHOTO/ZACHARIAS ABUBEKER

Asmara — Ethiopian Airlines is in talks to take a stake in Eritrean Airlines and a study will be conducted to determine the size of the acquisition, the Ethiopian carrier’s CEO said in an interview on Thursday.

"We are assessing the situation of Eritrean Airlines right now," Tewolde GebreMariam told Reuters during a visit to the Eritrean capital, Asmara. "I spoke with the CEO yesterday. They have one leased airplane — a [Boeing] 737. We have started discussions."

Tewolde travelled to Asmara on Wednesday with an Ethiopian delegation on the first commercial flight from Ethiopia to Eritrea in 20 years — cementing a stunning rapprochement that has ended a generation of hostility between the neighbouring countries in a matter of days.

The two 90-minute flights put the icing on the cake of a peace push by new Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. His first three months in office have turned politics in his country and the wider East African region on its head.

"It is beyond opening routes. This one is different because politically, economically and socially, the flight we flew yesterday is going to make radical changes between the peoples of Ethiopia and Eritrea. It is a game-changer," Tewolde said.

The CEO said that, based on the demand and bookings he had seen, starting in a couple of weeks, Ethiopian Airlines would fly twice daily to Asmara.

"We [also] plan to fly to Massawa and Assab. We have not assessed the market [in the two towns], so we will send market research people," he said. "The demand is heavy, not only because of Eritrea and Ethiopia, but also demand from Eritreans living in Europe, America and so on, who are eager to visit friends and relatives in Asmara."

"[Previously], connections were not smooth for them to come back home. They had to go through Dubai or Istanbul and it was not convenient. Now they will have direct flights from the US, Canada and Europe."

Reuters